The Monsters That Ate Four-Wheeling
If you subscribed to Four Wheeler in the ’80s, the odds were good you’d see one on the cover sporting a blown and bottle-fed 468 big-block, rolling on 66-inch Terra Grips, and steamrolling a line-up of junked cars. They might not have been real world rigs, these monster trucks, but most of our readers couldn’t seem to get enough of them at the time, and they certainly helped us sell a lot of magazines.
The creation of the first true monster truck is credited to Bob Chandler of St. Louis, Missouri, creator of Bigfoot 1 in the mid-’70s. Chandler, a former construction contractor and founder of one of the Midwest’s first off-road shopsMidwest 4 Wheel Drive Center in Hazelwood, Missouribegan trailering his lifted Ford F-250, which he used primarily for promotion purposes, to car shows starting in 1979; Chandler is also generally credited with first performing the iconic car crush maneuver in 1981. (The first recorded crushing took place in an open field with two cars; the first public crushing was held the following year at the Pontiac Silverdome, when Bigfoot debuted with previously-unheard-of 66-inch tires.)
Bigfoot’s popularity spawned a cottage industry, and in short order a slew of other monstersKing Kong and Bear Foot being the most prominentwere also making the rounds at truck pulls and exhibitions. By 1985, the beasts had grown so popular that promotion companies such as TNT started staging side-by-side elimination races, and by 1988, a championship points series was established. Around that time, Four Wheeler launched a spinoff publication, Monster Trucks, an all-monsters, all-the-time quarterly that stayed in publication through 1990. While the monsters don’t appear often in the pages of Four Wheeler anymore, the monster craze has shown little sign of abating over the years; the current Monster Jam and Special Events Jamboree Nationals series still manage to pack stadiums and sports arenas year-round with legions of fans cheering on such fabled rigs as Grave Digger, Awesome Kong, Virginia Giantand Bigfoot 17.
By the early ’90s, however, the thrill seemed to have worn off for FW readers, and our coverage of monster shows and tech slowly waned; truth be told, a few staffers in those days had come view the monsters as something of a joke. But as things turned out, it looks like Bob Chandler and the other monster entrepreneurs were the ones who had the last laugh. While they may have looked cartoonish to some, these trucks inspired a generation of 4x4 builders and aftermarket companies with pioneering tech innovations such as rear steer, all-tube chassis, Rockwell axles and multilink suspensionsin short, the kind of everyday setups we now see on thousands of rigs at Moab, on the Rubicon, and at our own Top Truck Challenge.